The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric
2. Spiritual Science as Preparation for a New Etheric Vision
Heidelberg, 27 January, 1910
Our lectures at group meetings would contribute little to our progress if we could not occasionally speak about the more intimate processes of the spiritual life of humanity. What we should strive for in our groups is a preparation for the attainment of higher spiritual truths. At the same time, we must not think that such a preparation consists merely in learning theories or ideas. What we call preparation for the attainment of higher truths should really consist in a certain state of feeling and sensation in our soul. Through the life in our groups and through the fact that we meet from week to week, our souls should gradually mature to the point at which they become receptive even to those elements of spiritual science that descend — or, if you like, ascend — from the more general truths, which we are already in a position to communicate through exoteric lectures to the greater public, to the concrete facts of life.
Let us then dedicate this particular evening especially to such a preparation of our souls, that is, to such a preparation of feeling within our souls. There are certain things that should be brought before our souls this evening, things that, to be sure, we shall understand at first only slowly and gradually but that we can begin to feel and divine if we acquire the necessary degree of maturity through our life in the groups. It must be taken for granted in this case that such truths will be received with corresponding delicacy, that they will be received as a priceless treasure of soul, not as something we believe we can readily place before an unprepared audience. We shall gradually ascend in our considerations from the known to the unknown.
A question intrudes even upon the mind of one familiar with the elements of an anthroposophical world conception: is there any sense or purpose in the fact that the human soul appears again and again in successive incarnations or embodiments on earth? One may accept the abstract truth of reincarnation, yet such an abstract truth basically can help us little in life. Truths acquire a significance in our lives only when they can be transformed, recast, in our souls into warmth of feeling, into the light that shines forth within us in such a way that it leads us onward along the path of life. For this reason, the abstract truth of reincarnation acquires significance for us only when we are able to know something more precise and intimate concerning the sense and significance of the successive incarnations of human beings. This will be one of the questions with which we shall occupy ourselves today.
The other question is: what particular significance is contained for us in the fact that we are in a position, during our present incarnation, to absorb anthroposophy into our souls, to bind anthroposophical truths with our innermost life? We shall see that today these two things will unite harmoniously.
You have often heard that two successive incarnations of a human being do not succeed each other in an arbitrary way but that when the human being has passed through death and out of one earthly life he returns to a new earthly life only when it affords him the opportunity to learn something new about the earth and to unite this with his soul life. This can be understood, of course, only by one who does not limit his study of the evolution of the earth to a period extending over a few centuries or millenia. Only one who surveys the whole evolution of the earth is in a position to comprehend things in the right way. Regarding outer physical conditions, we shall learn to comprehend, even if we limit ourselves to outer sources, that the very countenance of the earth has changed during the course of relatively short periods of time.
If, for instance, you read the description of the regions in which we are now living to see how they must have looked at the time when Christ was walking about on earth, you will find the entire countenance of this region has changed during the course of relatively few centuries. You might then ask yourselves how much the moral and other conditions of civilization may have changed during the course of these few centuries. Try for a moment to call before your soul what a child used to learn at the beginning of our era and what a modern child learns today; try to imagine all this, and then recall from what you have learned through anthroposophical teachings that we are able to look back to a remote past when the countenance of the earth presented an entirely different appearance. Then, for the most part, continents that exist today did not yet exist, but there was an immense, extensive continent in the place occupied today by the Atlantic Ocean. Think of all that must have taken place throughout the course of long periods of time in order to change in this way the countenance of the earth to what it is today.
If you call all this before your soul, you must say to yourselves that there is the possibility for souls to experience something new from each existence on earth, always to receive new fruits, and then to unite these fruits with their own lives in order to pass through a spiritual life between death and a new birth. When the conditions have changed so that something new can be learned and it is worthwhile to descend again to earth, these souls actually come again in a new incarnation.
It is not merely a play of forces and beings active behind phenomena that brings man down again and again into new incarnations; it is a case, rather, of every incarnation contributing a new force and faculty as a new member within the divine plan representing the totality of human life. Only when we survey life in this way does the law of repeated lives on earth acquire true meaning. At the same time, we must also ask ourselves if it is not possible to miss some opportunity. Is it not possible that there is something that depends upon whether or not we make the most of any one incarnation or embodiment in the right way? If we could simply be sure that we would have a repetition of our present life in the next incarnation, many people could argue, “I have plenty of time because I shall live many more times.”
If one considers the most important facts of life, however, and knows that what the earth can give us during a definite period of time cannot be experienced again during another period, one will realize that it is indeed possible to miss opportunities; one can then acquire an inner sense of obligation and responsibility to make use of each incarnation, each earthly embodiment, in the right way. We shall come to see more exactly how we can make use of these incarnations if we now take a small glance backward, with the help of what spiritual investigation offers us. I shall now speak to you about certain facts that are already familiar to you, but I shall then extend them to include something that is unknown to most of you who are sitting here. What you already know is the fact that during our earlier incarnations our souls possessed entirely different faculties from those they possess today. Those faculties by which modern humanity lives and works did not always exist. If we ask ourselves what is especially active in the human soul today, we must answer by saying that it is the capacity to receive through the senses, in an exact way, the outer facts of the world. Man possesses a self-conscious reasoning power, a self-conscious power of judgment, which he is able to apply to sense perception and by means of which he can combine what he perceives through the senses, in this way obtaining a picture of the world through his cognition.
We know, however, that when the human being continues to develop his soul through the methods described in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment, (see Note 1) he becomes capable of perceiving another, a spiritual environment around him. We know that there is a spiritual eye that can be opened and that higher super-sensible faculties, dormant in the average human being today, can be awakened. We know that there was a time when every human being could perceive the spiritual world, but we know also that the time will come when the spiritual world will again be able to stream into our souls, just as light and color stream into the eyes of a blind man who has been operated on and had his sight restored. This light and color already existed in his environment but could not stream into him because the organs capable of admitting them were not yet opened.
We thus have today a humanity that can look into the spiritual world only through an abnormal development or by following special methods. The normal state for modern man is to be able to perceive the things of the world through his outer senses and to combine his perceptions through his reason or intellect, which are connected with the physical brain.
Humanity has not always been the same as it is today, however. We may look back to a remote period in human evolution and find, if we have opened the clairvoyant eye to the records we call the “Akashic Chronicle,” that the normal faculties of the human soul were entirely different at that time. In ancient times all human beings had a kind of clairvoyance, not the kind that one may acquire today through the methods referred to above but a clairvoyance of an entirely different sort; we must describe it as a vague, dreamlike, twilit clairvoyance. This clairvoyance existed especially under certain abnormal conditions. Even then, it came by itself; it was not necessary to call it forth by unusual methods. We would have to go back to a very remote past, it is true, if we wished to find a humanity endowed with constant clairvoyance, but even then it was only during certain intermediary states, between sleeping and waking, that man Always possessed a certain clairvoyance. The further back we go, the more we find this form of clairvoyance.
You will remember that, in tracing our way back through the various ages of civilization, we also come to particular epochs of human culture. We are now living in one period of civilization that was preceded by another that we designate as the Greco-Latin. This was preceded by another period, named after its leading nations, the Egyptian-Chaldean-Babylonian-Assyrian epoch. This was preceded by the one we designate as the ancient Persian; still further back, we come to what we call ancient India. This last is a civilization to which only the clairvoyant eye can look back. The period that produced the Vedas arose in much later times as a weak echo of that sublime wisdom that was given to the world by the Seven Holy Rishis during the earliest primeval Indian civilization. Now, if we go even further back than this, we find the great Atlantean catastrophe that so transformed the countenance of our earth through cataclysms of water and fire that the Atlantean continent gradually disappeared. In its place arose what today forms Africa and Europe on one side and America on the other. We might go still further back, in which case the ancient records of the Akashic Chronicle would show us that human beings dwelling upon this ancient Atlantean continent possessed entirely different faculties of soul from ours, faculties that would appear almost incredible to modern man because they were far too remote from anything he knows today.
During all these different periods, our own souls already existed; they existed in different bodies, and each time they possessed different faculties. If we were able to look back, we should find that our souls were then endowed with a high degree of clairvoyant receptivity. Especially during certain intermediary states between sleeping and waking, they were witnesses of a spiritual world; they were able to look into a spiritual world. You would find, if you could look back, that you yourselves at that time could see the facts and beings of the spiritual worlds. In those days there was no temptation, no possibility, for human souls to deny the spiritual world, because they saw the spiritual world, because it was only during a few hours of the day that they turned toward the physical world. The objects of the outer physical world were not as yet arranged visibly in the same way as they were in later periods. Hence, when human beings were in the intermediary state between sleeping and waking, they were surrounded by a world that they had to experience as spiritual, that filled them with the conviction that this was the world of man's origin. He descended from this world in order to acquire something in the physical world that he could not have acquired in the spiritual world above.
What is it that man has been able to acquire in this outer world that he was not also able to have in the spiritual world? What this spiritual world lacked was the possibility of evolving self-consciousness, the possibility of saying “I” to oneself. This is what humanity lacked. The human being was outside his own self during the most important moments of his life, as in a state of being enraptured, and in this state he did not even know that he was an independent individuality possessing an inner life of his own. He was given up entirely to the spiritual world. To learn to experience himself as an I was possible for man only here in the physical world; only here could he attain a real consciousness of self. With this self-consciousness is inseparably connected what we call the power of judgment, our modern thinking and our modern faculty for perception. The human being was compelled, therefore, to sacrifice his former relationship with the spiritual world, his former dim clairvoyance, in order to acquire the possibility of distinguishing himself as an I from his surroundings and through this coming to the I, to self-consciousness. In the future, the human being will acquire again, in addition to his consciousness of self, this capacity to look clairvoyantly into the world of spirits. The portal of the spiritual world has been closed to him in order that man might become a self-conscious, inward, spiritual being — in order that he might ascend to the consciousness of self and be able thereby to enter the spiritual world again as an independent being.
There was once, therefore, an ancient time in which man looked upon surroundings that were entirely different from those he knows today. What do we see today when we look out upon our physical surroundings? We see the world of minerals, plants, animals, and the physical shapes of our fellow human beings. This is what surrounds us; this is the world to which we first belong, the world that is opened to us between birth and death. Into that world from which stems this physical world and which lies behind it we can penetrate only through the gifts of clairvoyance; clairvoyance, as we have said, is not one of the normal faculties of a human being of our day, although in those ancient times it was available under certain conditions to everyone. While in this clairvoyant state, the human being became familiar with the spiritual world. He perceived there the spiritual beings and spiritual facts about which we hear through spiritual science; they do actually exist and cannot be looked upon as nonexistent simply because the normal perception of our day cannot see them. In the same way, light and color surround a blind person, though he may not be able to perceive them.
These spiritual beings were at one time the companions of the human being, and he could say to himself, “I belong to a spiritual world; I belong to it as a spirit-soul being. In the same way that my spirit-soul being lives in this world, so there are in it also such beings as I see about me during my clairvoyant states.” Man was a companion of spirit-soul beings during those distant ages of an ancient past. The insight into — the world and knowledge that looked back into these conditions has always been able to distinguish clearly, even today, the various stages through which man has passed in the course of different periods of time. First, there was the stage when he was still entirely within the spiritual world, when he scarcely descended with consciousness into the physical, sensible world but felt himself as belonging entirely to the spiritual world, so that he drew all his forces from this spiritual world. Spiritual knowledge distinguished this stage from those following it, during which this force gradually disappeared and in its stead there arose first the capacity to perceive sharply outlined objects in the outside world, then the elaboration of these impressions through logical thought and judgment and at the same time the definition of the I, of self-consciousness.
Oriental philosophy, which was able to see into these conditions because it still possessed remnants of the ancient sacred teaching of the Rishis, continued to have special designations for the various periods of human evolution. For the most ancient times of all — for those clairvoyant periods of human evolution when this clairvoyance ascended into the highest regions of the spiritual world, to beings that we must picture to ourselves as the highest of those connected with our world — the designation Krita Yuga was used; this was later called the Golden Age.
Another epoch followed, during which human beings already could see much less of the spiritual world; the influences of the spiritual world upon man were no longer so strong and alive as they had been. This period was originally called Treta Yuga, later on, the Silver Age. During this epoch, human beings living between birth and death obtained their certainty of the spiritual world in yet another way. Their immediate experiences of the spiritual world were unclear, it is true, but to compensate for this they could remember the time that preceded their birth when they had lived together with the spiritual beings. This period, therefore, was one in which the human being was still as certain of the existence of the spiritual world as is the case today when he has grown old and cannot deny that he has passed through his youth. This age was designated as Treta Yuga by the wisdom that knows about such things. Later on, it was replaced by the less clear expression, Silver Age. All of these ancient expressions have at the same time their deep significance, and it is really childish when modern science explains them in the way it does, since it has not the faintest idea of the realities from which these designations flow.
This Silver Age was followed by an age in which there still existed a clear knowledge, a kind of true knowledge of the spiritual world; yet by that time the human being had already descended sufficiently deeply into the physical, sensible world to be able to choose between the two worlds and to have his own convictions concerning them. The old clairvoyance became darker and darker during this third age, the Iron Age or Dvapara Yuga. Nevertheless, it still existed to a certain extent in a twilit state and the human being could, as a result of his own conviction, connect himself more or less with the spiritual world. He had formerly experienced this spiritual world, and this he still knew during the Iron Age.
Then came the age we designate with an Oriental expression, Kali Yuga, the Dark Age. This was the age during which the portal of the spiritual world gradually closed completely to the faculties of the human soul. Through the fact that human beings had to depend increasingly upon their perceptions in the physical, sensible world, they were also able to cultivate within this world their feeling of self, their feeling for the I, their I-consciousness. This age began at a comparatively late date, about 3100 BC, and it continued into our own times.
It is our purpose to study this today in such a way that we can distinguish these different ages so that we may understand our most important tasks in this present incarnation.
We must go back as far as the Atlantean time if we wish to trace the beginnings of Krita Yuga. Treta Yuga, however, still partly coincides with the time of the Holy Rishis, that is, with the Indian civilization but in part also with the ancient Persian civilization. Dvapara Yuga coincides in turn with later epochs of civilization, that is with the Egyptian-Chaldean-Babylonian-Assyrian times, and a certain degree of ancient, dim clairvoyance still existed in those days. The moment in time in which the portals of the spiritual world began slowly and gradually to close, so that humanity had to limit itself to the physical plane, began with the year 3101 before Christ Jesus walked on earth. Thus we see an age beginning about 3,000 years before the Christ event, an age that has gradually made us into what we are today. When we know that it is during this age that the most important deed in the whole evolution of the earth took place — the deed of Christ — we can then appreciate the full significance of this deed.
What, then, were human beings like in this age of Kali Yuga as Christ descended to the earth? They had already been for more than 3,000 years in an evolution that had limited them to the physical world; it had limited them between birth and death to absorb only what could be offered to them in this physical world, what appeared to them in this physical world. Had this evolution continued, man's I-consciousness would have grown ever stronger, to be sure, but solely in an egotistical direction. Man would have become an indulgent being, a being full of desires; he would have enclosed everything coolly within his I. Had something else not occurred, he would have lost completely the consciousness that there is a spiritual world. What was it that occurred just at that time? The whole significance of what occurred arises before our souls when we once understand that there are times of transition in the evolution of the earth. Many persons who merely speculate or who merely indulge in an abstract philosophy, or in the cultivation of any other sort of ideology, call every age a time of transition.
Indeed, one may find that almost every period as far back as one can go with the help of the printing press (and how much has been printed!) has been called a time of transition. One who stands upon the foundations of spiritual science will not be so free with the use of this word, because only those times can be called periods of transition in which something takes place that is really more essential and decisive than what takes place in other ages.
There is a statement that has been taken for granted by official science but that anthroposophists should learn to realize is without meaning: “Nature makes no leaps.” This sounds objective, yet it is senseless, because nature continually makes leaps. If you follow the development of a plant, you find that there is a leap whenever something new appears in the course of its development. A leap takes place from the regular leaf formation to the blossom, from the calyx to the petals, from the petals to the stamen, and so on. After nature has developed gradually for some time, it makes further leaps; indeed, all existence makes leaps. Therein lies the essential nature of evolution, that crises and leaps take place. It is one of those commonplaces resulting from the terrible laziness of human thinking when human beings say that “nature makes no leaps”; in reality it makes many leaps.
Spiritual life especially proceeds in leaps. Great and significant leaps take place in the course of spiritual development. Life then moves gradually forward until significant spiritual leaps again take place. One such tremendous leap in the life of humanity — one that was important not only for those who were with Christ — took place at the time when He walked on earth. In this sense we may call the age when Christ lived and taught in Palestine an age of transition. Please do not say that such a leap, such a passage as this, must be noticed easily by everyone. No, indeed! The most essential events occurring in an age may remain completely concealed from the eyes of those who are alive, and they may pass people by completely unnoticed. We know that such an event once took place, leaving not a trace as it passed completely unnoticed by millions of human beings. We know that the important Roman writer, Tacitus, in a passage in one of his works, described the Christians as a secret and unknown sect, and we also know that one hundred years after Christianity had spread over the southern regions of Europe, strange tales were related in Rome concerning it.
There were thus many circles in Rome at that time that knew nothing about Christianity except that it was a disturbing sect that existed in some remote back street and was led by a certain Jesus who incited people to all kinds of misdeeds. This was one of the versions that circulated in Rome even a century after Christianity was already in existence. It shows us how the most significant of all events, not only for that time but also for the whole of human evolution, passed without a trace, unnoticed by a vast number of human beings. We must be able to picture the fact that, while human beings are noticing nothing, absolutely nothing, the most important and significant event may be taking place. When people say, therefore, that we are living in a time when nothing essential, nothing important is taking place, it does not prove that they are right.
It is indeed a fact that today we are living again in an age of transition in which the most important spiritual events are taking place unknown to large numbers of our contemporaries, yet going on nevertheless. It is this fact that we should make clear to ourselves: we can indeed speak of ages of transition, but we should not use these words too freely. What was the essential characteristic of that age of transition in which Christ Jesus appeared? It is expressed in those significant words that one must only learn to understand in the right way. It was expressed in the prophecy of John the Baptist, quoted later by Christ: “Change the disposition of your souls; the kingdoms of heaven are at hand.” A whole world is contained in this saying, and it is precisely this same world that is so intimately connected with the most important of events that was consummated at that time for the evolution of humanity as a whole.
Through the natural evolution during Kali Yuga, human beings had gradually attained power of judgment and I-consciousness, but they had become incapable of acquiring again, out of this I-consciousness and through their own powers, the connection with the spiritual world. John the Baptist said, “The time has come when your I must be so trained that this I can penetrate completely into the depths of your soul, that it can find within itself the bond with the kingdoms of heaven,” for the human being normally is no longer able to ascend outside of himself in the clairvoyant state into a spiritual world. The kingdoms of heaven had to descend as far as the physical world. They must now reveal themselves in such a way that the I can recognize them through the ordinary consciousness of self, through the sense for truth inherent in ordinary self-consciousness. “Change the inclination, change the former disposition of your soul, so that you can believe that your soul life is capable of being kindled into warmth within itself, within the I, and that you are able to grasp, by observing everything that takes place about you, that there is a spiritual world. You must learn to comprehend the spiritual worlds in your I, through your I. They have descended and are near at hand. They must no longer be sought in a world of rapture outside of consciousness!”
It was for this reason that Christ had to descend and to appear in a human physical body, because man's disposition of soul was attuned to the comprehension of the physical plane. God had to come to human beings upon the physical plane because, through the cultivation of the I and through the closing of the portal leading to the spiritual world, they were no longer capable of approaching the gods in the old way. Herein lies the greatness of the event that took place at that time: that through the natural evolution of human faculties, the old relationship with the spiritual worlds was lost and the attainment of I-consciousness was achieved, but that it was also possible as a result of this to gain consciousness of these spiritual worlds within the physical world. Christ thus became the mediator of the spiritual worlds for those human beings who have reached such a stage of development that they can, in the I that lives on the physical plane, gain the connection with the spiritual world. “Change the disposition of your souls; do not believe any longer that the human being can ascend normally to the spiritual world by being enraptured; rather believe that through the development of capacities inherent to the I, and with the help of Christ, you can find the path leading into the spiritual worlds. Only in this way will humanity now be able to find the spirit.”
Today we are again living in a similar age, since Kali Yuga, the Dark Age, had run its course by 1899, and once again new dispositions of soul, new soul faculties, are slowly being prepared in a similar way. It is quite possible that our contemporaries, the human beings living in our age, may sleep through this. We shall learn gradually to recognize what is to take place for all humanity during the age that began with the close of Kali Yuga. It is our task today to see to it that this transitional event may not pass us by unnoticed and without effect upon the progress of humanity.
Kali Yuga came to an end only a few years ago; 1899 is the approximate date of its termination. We are now approaching a time when, in addition to the already evolved self-consciousness, certain clairvoyant faculties will again evolve quite naturally. Human beings will have the strange and remarkable experience of not knowing what is really happening to them! They will begin to receive premonitions that will become reality, and they will be able to foresee events that will actually take place. Indeed, people everywhere will gradually begin actually to see, although only in shadowy outline and in its first elements, what we call man's etheric body. The human being of today sees only the physical body; the capacity to see the etheric body will gradually be added. People will have learned that this etheric body is a reality, or they will think it is an illusion of their senses, since such a thing, so they will say, does not exist. Things will come to a point at which many people who have such experiences will ask themselves, “Am I really mad?”
Although it will be only a small number of people who will develop these faculties during the next few decades, spiritual science is something that will spread, because the responsibility one feels is for something that in reality is taking place; it must take place in accordance with the natural course of events. Why do we teach spiritual science? Because phenomena will appear in the near future that only spiritual science will be able to grasp and that will remain misunderstood if spiritual science is not there.
These faculties will develop relatively quickly in the case of a small number of human beings. It is quite true, to be sure, that through an esoteric training man may ascend, even today, far beyond what is preparing itself on a small scale for humanity. At the same time, that to which man can ascend in our day by his own efforts, through appropriate training, is already being slightly prepared in small beginnings for all of humanity. It is something about which it will be necessary to speak, whether one understands it or not, during the years 1930 to 1940. Only a few decades separate us from that moment in time when such phenomena will have begun to be more frequent.
By that time, however, something else will also take place for those human beings who will have acquired these faculties. For them, the proof will be yielded of one of the most powerful sayings contained in the New Testament, and it will deeply move their souls. In these souls will arise the words, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” that is to say, if we translate it correctly, “even unto the end of the earth eons.” This expression says to us that Christianity is not merely what books once described it to be or what was learned in recent times. These words tell us that Christianity is not merely what is embraced today in the form of this or that dogma but that it is something living, which contains within it the vision and experience of revelations, something that will unfold with ever-increasing strength. We stand today only at the beginning of the working of Christianity, and anyone who has really united himself with Christ knows that ever-new revelations will spring forth from it. He knows that Christianity is not giving way but that it is growing and becoming, that it is something living, not dead.
One who undertakes spiritual development today can even begin already to experience the truth of this expression, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the ages of the earth.” He is with us and hovers about the earth in spirit form. Previous to the event of Golgotha, the clairvoyant was unable to find Christ in the atmosphere of the earth. Only after the event of Golgotha did Christ become visible in the atmosphere of the earth, because it is since that time that He has been present there. One who was experienced in clairvoyance during pre-Christian times knew that the time would come in which this would occur. He knew that it was not yet possible to find in the astral sphere of our earth what one calls the Christ, but the time will come when the clairvoyant eye will be opened and will be able to see Christ in the earthly sphere. He knew that a great change would take place regarding earthly clairvoyance, yet he was not sufficiently advanced to be convinced by the events in Palestine that these events had already taken place. No physical events could convince him that Christ had already descended to the earth.
One thing alone could convince him: when he saw Christ clairvoyantly in the atmosphere of the earth. Through this he became convinced that the descent of Christ to the earth, which was expected in the mysteries, had actually been consummated. What Paul experienced as the presence of Christ in the atmosphere of the earth is what modern man may train himself to experience clairvoyantly through an esoteric schooling; this is also what single persons here and there will be able to experience through a natural clairvoyance, as I have already characterized it, beginning with the years 1930 to 1940. Then it will continue through long periods of time as something that has become entirely natural to humanity.
The event of Damascus will repeat itself for many persons, and we can designate this event as a return of Christ, a return in the spirit. Christ will be present for all those who will be able to ascend as far as the vision of the etheric body. He descended only once in the flesh, at the time when He lived in Palestine, but in His etheric body He is always present within the etheric atmosphere of the earth. Because human beings will be able to develop etheric vision, they will also be able to behold Him. The return of Christ thus will come to pass for humanity through the fact that human beings will advance to the faculty of beholding Christ in the etheric. This is what we may look forward to in our time of transition. It is the task of spiritual science to prepare human souls so that they may be able to receive Christ, Who has come down to them.
We see that by this time we have already taken account of the second question we posed. We have seen that it makes good sense to use our incarnations well, but we have also seen that the best use to make of our present incarnation is to prepare ourselves for that insight that will become for us the future of Christ. We must learn to understand in the right sense this return of Christ. We shall then also be able to understand how great the dangers are that are connected with it. This is what I must now explain to you.
The most sublime experience possible for humanity is now in store for human beings in what I have described to you as the return of Christ in the spirit. Yet modern materialism will continue to be so powerful that even such a truth will be interpreted in a materialistic way. This materialistic interpretation will transform itself into reality. This truth will be interpreted as a return of Christ in the flesh. False Christs, false messiahs, will walk about on the earth in the not too distant future, persons who will claim to be the returning Christ. Anthroposophists, however, should be those who are not deceived by such materialism that believes Christ can descend again to earth in the flesh. They know that the Dark Age has come to an end, that age in which human beings needed, for the development of their I-consciousness, the life within physical matter without insight into the spiritual worlds. Man must now develop himself so that he can ascend again to the spiritual sphere where he will be able to behold Christ living and ever-present in the etheric.
Humanity will be granted a period of about 2,500 years in which to develop these faculties; 2,500 years will be at his disposal to attain etheric vision as a natural, universal human faculty, until human beings advance again to another faculty in another time of transition. During these 2,500 years, more and more human souls will be able to develop these faculties in themselves. It will make no difference whether they are then living their lives between birth and death or whether they are dwelling in the spiritual world after death. The period of human life between death and a new birth will also be passed differently if human souls have experienced the reappearance of Christ. The life after death will also change as a result of this experience. This is why it is so important for the souls now incarnated to be well prepared for the Christ event that is to take place during this century. It is just as important for those who are incarnated here on earth in a physical body as for those who will already have passed through the portal of death and will be living the life between death and a new birth. It is of the greatest importance for all souls alive today to be prepared for this event and thus to be well armed against the dangers.
When we speak in this way, we feel what anthroposophy should and can mean to us, how it should prepare us to fulfill our task by seeing to it that a sublime event such as this not pass humanity by, leaving no trace behind. If it were to pass without leaving a trace, humanity would forfeit its most important possibility for evolution and would sink into darkness and gradual death. This event can bring light to human beings only if they awaken to this new perception and thereby open themselves also to the new Christ event.
This will be repeated again and again in the near future; at the same time, it must also be stated repeatedly that the false prophets would be able to prevent the good and the great were they to succeed in spreading the opinion that Christ would appear again in the flesh. If anthroposophists were to fail to grasp this, it would be possible for them to fall prey to that illusion that would enable false messiahs to arise. These false messiahs will appear; they will count on souls that are so weakened by materialism that they cannot imagine anything but that when Christ appears again, He must necessarily appear in material substance, in the flesh. This misinterpretation of the prophecy is an evil thing, and it will appear in the form of a dangerous temptation for humanity. It is the task of anthroposophy to protect human beings from this temptation. This cannot be emphasized too strongly for all who have ears to hear. We can see by this, moreover, that anthroposophy has important things to say; we do not merely “pursue” anthroposophy because we are curious to know all kinds of truths but because we know that these truths must be used for the salvation and gradual perfecting of humanity.
Christ will later appear to humanity in many forms. The form that He chose for the events in Palestine was chosen by Him because, at that time, human beings were dependent upon the faculty of unfolding their consciousness on the physical plane and, through this, conquering the physical plane. Humanity is called upon to develop ever-higher faculties, however, so that the course of evolution may be able, again and again, to make new leaps.
Christ will be there in order that He can be experienced also on these higher stages of knowledge. Christianity is in this connection not at the end but at the beginning of its influence. Humanity will continue to advance from stage to stage, and Christianity will also be there at every stage in order that it may satisfy the deepest requirements of the human soul throughout all future ages of the earth.